Monday, June 1, 2009

The Joy of Re-Reading

I have piles and piles of books that I need to read, but still I find myself going back to books I have read a million times. Dan Savage's Savage Love: Straight Answers from America's Most Popular Sex Columnist is one of my favorite bedtime books - I've read all the questions and answers a hundred time and they still make me laugh. I regularly re-read mysteries and detective novels, even though I already know whodunit. As a kid, I read Tolkein's famous trilogy every summer, usually sitting in a tree or on a swing at the park.

While I love the adventure of a new book, I also enjoy the familiarity of going back to an old favorite - that's why I was especially pleased by the article in Friday's New York Times: Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader. This paragraph really struck home for me:

Part of the fun of re-reading is that you are no longer bothered by the business of finding out what happens. Re-reading “Middlemarch,” for instance, or even “The Great Gatsby,” I’m able to pay attention to what’s really happening in the language itself — a pleasure surely as great as discovering who marries whom, and who dies and who does not.
Sometimes I get so caught up in finding out what happens, getting to the end, guessing the identity of the murderer, that I don't take time to really enjoy the story. Re-reading gives me the chance to enjoy all of the book - the language, the subplots, even the descriptions I skimmed over the first time.

Another part that resonated with me was this:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does.
Recently, I was having an online conversation with friends about re-reading books we had loved as children and how different they appear. It really is true that the way we feel about a book changes as we change. I know that I have come away with very different feelings about a book, reading it as an adult and as a child. And as our perceptions change, so do out opinions: over time, I became really irritated with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. When I was younger, I loved all the dashing, heroic men (and elves) in the story. As I grew older, I began to notice that the women in the story didn't really get to do much. (Of course, when the movies came out, I was back to appreciating all the handsome men!)

So, what about you - do you re-read favorite books? Have you found your appreciation for them changing over the years?


Unknown said...

I do re-read -- I have a couple of favourite old standbys. Robin McKinley's Sunshine and The Blue Sword are both books I go back to again and again. I used to read Madeleine L'Engle's A Ring of Endless Light anytime I went on a trip -- my copy has been to six different countries and multiple Canadian locations. I just wanted to have something with me I knew I would enjoy.

I do get nervous about re-reading things I haven't read in a long time -- I worry that a book won't stand up to my memory of it.

Memory said...

I'm a big rereader; in fact, I don't keep books unless I plan to reread them. I love going back over a familiar story and seeing how it's changed now that I know the ending. I find some books far richer when I know how they turn out; I can focus in on all the little bits and pieces that led to the denouement, and I can appreciate all the subtle little things that are going on beneath the surface. Plus, I get the pleasure of revisiting beloved characters and fascinating places.

LuAnn said...

Typically, I only read a book once, but there are a few that I've read time and time again, such as Jane Eyre and A Separate Peace. Movies are the same way. Once is usually enough, but I do need a regular fix of Antonio Banderas in Desperado!

Kirsten said...

I have to make a concentrated effort NOT to re-read more than I read anew; I love revisiting old friends and familiar haunts in my favorite books. Some of my regular re-reads are Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen and Magic's Pawn trilogies, as well as the Harry Potter series. I often find details I missed on a first time through when I re-read, and books from my youth - most recently The Phantom Tollbooth - nearly always have entirely new meaning.

LisaMM said...

I have not re-read too many books with the exception of books I read as a child, then read aloud to my own kids. The Secret Garden is a recent example. I don't think it changed for me but my memories were a little hazy, and rediscovering it was sooooo fun- truly a joy. The only adult book I recall re-reading was Ethan Fromme. Loved it both times! But generally, once is enough for me.